The true story of the end of the Third Reich, the Hitler Youth leader Artur Axmann and the US Army Counter Intelligence Corp operation lead by Jack Hunter
A trusted member of Hitler's inner circle, Artur Axmann, the head of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend), witnessed the Führer commit suicide in his Berlin bunker—but he would not let the Reich die with its leader. He lead a group of Nazis, including Martin Bormann, intent on escaping the encircling Red Army. Evading capture during the Battle of Berlin, and with access to remnants of the regime’s wealth, Axmann had enough adult followers to reestablish the Nazi party in the very heart of Allied-occupied Germany.
U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps Officer Jack Hunter was the perfect undercover operative. Fluent in German, he posed as a black marketeer to root out Nazi sympathizers and saboteurs after the war, and along with other CIC agents uncovered the extent of Axmann’s conspiracy. It threatened to bring the Nazis back into power—and the task fell to Hunter and his team to stop it.
The Axmann Conspiracy is the previously untold true story of the Nazi threat that continued in the wake of World War II, the espionage that defeated it, and two fascinating men whose lives forever altered the course of post-war Germany.
BERLIN, APRIL 30, 1945
For those of Hitler’s men still in the heart of the city’s government sector, the Battle of Berlin was almost lost.
Shell after shell sent deafening explosions through the Reich Chancellery garden above Hitler’s bunker, kicking up debris and shrapnel. Artur Axmann, to get from his command post in the cellar of the Party Chancellery at Wilhelmstrasse 64 to Hitler’s bunker, was forced to run across exposed territory. En route, he passed the skeleton of a horse whose body had been stripped of meat by people hungry enough to risk enemy fire in search of food.
Axmann wore a moistened bandana across his mouth and nose, like a bank robber in a Western—not to conceal his identity, but rather to make the noxious air, full of fumes produced by the Soviets’ white phosphorus shells, marginally more breathable.
He wet his bandana with wine, as it was more plentiful than water—the only running water was in the bunker itself. Even with the bandana, the air still smelled of ash and of death.
Axmann reeled from exhaustion. He was dirty, and a scruffy beard was growing on his chin. Before these last days of the war, he was always meticulously dressed in his uniform and clean-shaven.
Of slight build, Axmann stood just over five and a half feet. He was young and handsome, with dark blond hair that flowed over his scalp in waves. His sharp chin and sculpted cheeks off set his piercing gray blue eyes. His most noticeable feature, though, was the result of an earlier war injury—Axmann had no right forearm, which meant that he was also missing a hand. Where it used to be, he now managed instead with a prosthetic device he partially covered with a glove.
The scream of the explosions rocking the cellar he employed as his command post, combined with the fatigue of fighting a battle he knew was lost, had culminated in a bad case of insomnia. Moreover, without running water in his command post, he could not properly bathe. Once in the bunker, Axmann asked Hitler’s forgiveness for not being presentable, to which Hitler replied, “You look like I did during the First World War.”
Axmann’s soiled uniform bore the insignia of a Reichsjugendführer—head of the Reich’s young people—a position he’d occupied for five years. This meant Axmann was in charge of the Hitler Youth and its female counterpart, the League of German Girls.
As Reichsjugendführer, thirty-two-year-old Axmann reported directly to Adolf Hitler himself. This was an enormous step up from his humble working-class origins.
Axmann commanded Hitler Youth—some as young as twelve years old—to defend Berlin to the death, despite the fact that the fight against the Russians was futile, as even the most dedicated Nazi could now see. The Red Army encircled the city, and were so near the Führerbunker that Russian snipers could fire upon anyone brave or foolish enough to go outside.
Even so, Axmann ordered HJ members to continue the fight against the better equipped, trained, and experienced Russian troops. In the weeks leading up to the Battle of Berlin, he’d put together an antitank brigade comprised of HJ members. These boys used throwaway, portable grenade launchers called Panzerfaust (“tank fist”) to take out Soviet tanks. To successfully blast an enemy tank, the boys had to venture dangerously close to it. Sometimes they succeeded, but in the process, they were killed in large numbers.
In late March, Axmann announced these HJ anti-tank groups in the official Nazi newspaper: “From the Hitler Youth has emerged a movement of young tank busters. . . . There is only victory or annihilation. Know no bounds in your love to your people; equally know no bounds in your hatred of the enemy. It is your duty to watch when others are tired; to stand when others are weak. Your greatest honor, however is your unshakeable faithfulness to Adolf Hitler.”
Many of the boys who survived this fighting were badly injured. The same day that Axmann’s article came out, the leader of a group of HJ fighting in Vienna, Austria, wrote in his diary: “Here they are, Willi with his artificial lower leg, Hubert with his shot-off thigh, Hannes with his damaged foot, Schorschi with a prosthesis and head bandage, Karl with his empty sleeve, and all the others, those already recuperated or barely so.” And these were the boys who were considered fit enough to fight.
The goal of these boys’ fighting and dying was not to stop the Russians from conquering Berlin, which was not even remotely possible. They died to buy Axmann and the Führer a little more time and keep open the possibility of their escape. Axmann had previously offered to lead two hundred HJ boys in a desperate maneuver to evacuate the Führer from Berlin, using them as a human shield. Hitler had turned down Axmann’s offer, then “shook Axmann’s hand and thanked him for his loyalty.”
The day before, Axmann and Hitler had had a long, personal talk. Shortly before this conversation, Hitler received the distressing news that the Soviets were about a mile away and that Communist partisans had executed his former ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. His corpse had been mutilated and hung upside down in front of jeering crowds in Milan. Axmann attended a military conference in the bunker in which “it was once touched upon . . . that Mussolini’s body had been hanged by its feet in Milan and I felt immediately that that had impressed Hitler very profoundly.”
Axmann knew that his Führer planned to kill himself rather than risk the Soviets taking him prisoner.
Reviews & Praise
"The Axmann Conspiracy is well-documented history but reads like a thriller. In our troubled age, when anti-semitism is on the rise, this account of a would-be Fourth Reich and the men who foiled it is as timely as it is chilling and engrossing."
#1 New York Times Bestselling Author
"Scott Selby's account, of the soulless Nazi fanatics who slithered about the ruins of Germany seeking not survival but resurgence and restoration, unfolds as if in real time, vivid and chilling."
New York Times Bestselling Author of The Pacific
"The Axmann Conspiracy is a true story, known to few and never before told in such extraordinary detail. The Nazi plot to resurrect a Fourth Reich from the ashes of Berlin has all the elements of a great spy thriller, a tale of insanity beyond insanity, Hitler beyond Hitler. Highly recommended."
Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi
New York Times Bestselling Authors of The Monster of Florence
"An entertaining account of a last-gasp Nazi effort...readers will enjoy Scott Selby's account of a hitherto-obscure Nazi plot and the energetic counterintelligence that foiled it."
"The book is well paced; the story is colorful, and the author conveys the havoc of occupied Germany immediately after World War II. Scott Selby does his utmost to deliver a cracking yarn."
"In The Axmann Conspiracy, Scott Andrew Selby explores a little-known chapter in the history of World War II, showing just how close the world came to a guerilla war that could have extended the fighting for years with unknown consequences. Exhaustively researched, parts of The Axmann Conspiracy read like something out of a LeCarre spy novel – but in this case, everything is based on carefully examined documents and well-marshaled facts. Anyone who thinks he knows how World War II ended should pick up this book: it will change his mind. Strongly recommended."
#1 New York Times Bestselling Coauthor of American Sniper
"The Axmann Conspiracy tells a fascinating true story of insurgent Nazism with characters and twists as engrossing as any espionage novel. With clarity and attention to detail, Scott Selby infuses this dramatic narrative of post WWII plots and counterplots with insights that not only bring this singular period and people out of the shadows, but also provoke the reader to reflect on the ways some of its complex patterns of warfare, retribution, and justice resonate into the present."
New York Times Bestselling Author of The Dante Club
"How many novelists have imagined some diabolical villain who seeks the resurrection of the Nazis? None do justice to the heart-thumping true story of Axmann and his aim to do just that. Impressively researched, Scott Selby recounts this history with zeal and narrative verve."
New York Times Bestselling Author of Hunting Eichmann
"The Axmann Conspiracy is a gripping tale that keeps the reader jumping from one page to the next. With the deft hand of a skilled researcher, Scott Selby brings to life one of the lost stories of World War II. A must read for any student of World War II history, or anyone who loves a good story."
Gregory A. Freeman
New York Times Bestselling Author of The Forgotten 500